Shining Through the Darkness: May 2023 TEDxAthens Blackout Resilience in (copy)

Within 15 minutes of the power outage, the Content Team efficiently rearranged the day’s schedule using pen and paper.

The May 2023 TEDxAthens event had all the makings of a memorable day, filled with enlightening talks and inspiring performances. However, fate had a different plan in store for us that day. Just after lunch, during the second session, an unexpected blackout plunged not only our trusted venue, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC), into darkness but also the entire Kallithea residential area.

Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC), home of TEDxAthens Main Conference between 2017–2023

Emergency power generators of the SNFCC are designed to power only essential systems like ventilation, AC and elevators for safety and evacuation purposes. The blackout forced us to confront a unique challenge. With quick thinking and determination, we managed to turn this adversity into an opportunity to showcase our resilience and creativity.

The blackout lasted for approximately an hour, causing an overall delay to our meticulously planned schedule. However, our dedicated team, driven by the spirit of TEDxAthens, was up to the task.

How we responded

Step 1, It takes a TEAM: Within 15 minutes of the power outage, the Content Team efficiently rearranged the day’s schedule using pen and paper. It was communicated to all relevant team members in order to organize and sync between the teams most heavily involved (Production, Hospitality, Content, SPS). It was updated on the event’s website and the audience was guided to use that as the only source of information for the updated schedule.

Step 2, Keeping the Audience & Key Stakeholders Informed: We recognized the importance of keeping our audience & key stakeholders informed and reassured. Members of our organizing team took the stage, letting everyone know that we were in control and explaining the situation with transparency. This helped maintain a sense of order and trust among the attendees.

In parallel, our Operations & Partnerships Teams shared similar messages with our audience outside of the main stage & event sponsors and partners, enhancing the message that our team was still in control.

We handled this situation with care, and responsibility — without losing our professionalism and vivid smile for a single moment.

Members of our leadership team on stage during the first minutes of the blackout

Step 3, Filling the Dead Time with Creativity: To make the best of a challenging situation, we decided to fill the unexpected downtime with creativity. TEDx events are all about innovative ideas, so our team members took the stage to share their own creative insights, engaging the audience and keeping the TEDx spirit alive.

Nothing was canceled!

Re-live the moments:

As this was a challenging and demanding situation we have encountered, we have developed a practical protocol for any similar incidents in the future, ensuring that neither we nor you will ever feel panicked again.

View of the main stage during the Blackout

Contingency Protocol for Future Blackouts

Production Preparation & Operations Sequencing:

1.Communication with Venue Management: Prior to the event, establish clear communication with the management of your venue. Understand the severity of potential failures, actions they will take on their behalf in case of power outages or technical issues, and the estimated time it may take to restore normal operations. This proactive approach will enable better coordination and preparedness, ensuring a smoother response to unexpected challenges. With this added step of communication with venue management, you’ll have a more comprehensive contingency plan that considers the venue’s specific capabilities and procedures in case of unforeseen issues.

2.Mobile Speaker & Microphone: Always have a mobile speaker and microphone charged and ready to use in case of an emergency. This ensures that you can communicate with the audience effectively, even in challenging circumstances.

3.Content Filler: Be prepared in advance to use some kind of ice-breaking activities that could act as content filler, such as a musician or a dance group, on standby to go on stage and entertain the audience during a blackout or technical difficulties.

4.Off-Stage Production Teams: In parallel, engage off-stage production teams to explore the possibility of having an extra (emergency) break built into the schedule. Ensure that there are food and beverages available, as well as potential activities, to offer the audience if they need to leave their seats temporarily.

Speaker & Stage Management:

5.On the main stage: if a speaker is in the middle of their talk during the power outage, immediately have a Speaker Manager go to them. Ensure they understand what the situation is. Reassure them they will have the chance to continue their talk and have it recorded once power is established.

6.Backstage: Speakers waiting to get on stage. Ease their stress. Have a coach do breathing with them, reassuring them they will get the chance to do their talk once power is established. Coordinate with the Hospitality team to take them to a room if needed.

7.Speakers not there yet: coordinate with the hospitality team to communicate with speakers not at the venue yet and notify them of the situation if their talk is to be canceled.

8.Record Talk Backup Plan: if power can’t be established, offer a contingency plan where possible to record their talk elsewhere, even without an audience in order to upload it on our channels. Perhaps an offsite hotel room or a studio on standby.

Last but not least, our key learning — create a memorable experience out of disaster.

As the blackout persisted, one of the most unforgettable moments in our 14-year history unfolded. Out of the blue, one of the music groups we had scheduled to perform later in the evening took the stage and led an impromptu a cappella performance. It was a magical moment that showcased the power of spontaneity and the element of the unexpected at TEDxAthens.

Total blackout? Not really ;-)

In conclusion, the blackout during the May 2023 TEDxAthens event tested our resilience and creativity. It was a challenge that we not only overcame but turned into one of the most memorable moments in our event’s history. In the language of performance arts, a ‘blackout’ is the turning off of the stage lighting to separate scenes in a play or end a play. After all, TEDx takes place (mostly) on a stage. With a well-thought-out contingency protocol in place (and a healthy dose of improvisation), we were able to navigate the unexpected and shine through the darkness, keeping the TEDx spirit alive and well. End of scene; not ‘finale’.

The usual vibes

 

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